The thrill—and challenge—of opening your own cryotherapy business
When she was in her late 20s, Kathleen Jobes didn’t consider herself an athlete by any means, and had never run in any sort of competition.
At age 36, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials as a marathoner.
It’s fair to say Jobes has no fear of new challenges, and she’s taking on further unfamiliar territory with her new business venture, Cryotherapy of Bethlehem, located in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
After approximately 20 years in the publishing business, Jobes opened the cryotherapy center last year, and as owner/operator she has spent the past seven months working to make it a success.
“I knew I was going to face plenty of challenges in our first year,” she admitted. “But I’m utilizing a number of different avenues to gain traction and clients.”
The most important strategy is good, old-fashioned word of mouth. Jobes has taken advantage of her proximity to numerous high schools and colleges, offering special rates to athletes from those schools in hopes that they’ll incorporate whole-body cryotherapy into their regular recovery routines.
“As an athlete myself, I appreciate health and wellness, especially alternative methods,” she explained. “With so many athletes in the nearby area and my own background in athletics, this seemed like a natural fit.”
How It Works
When you hear the term cryotherapy, perhaps you picture a room with huge, silver tanks spewing white gases while a group of people brave temperatures well below freezing. Or maybe it conjures images of YouTube videos where, through chattering teeth, celebrities rave about how great they feel after a brief freeze.
Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is the practice of using cold temperatures to promote natural healing and wellness. While it dates to ancient civilizations, modern utilization is traced back about 40 years to Dr. Toshima Yamauchi, who used short-term exposure (about three minutes) to temperatures between -130 degrees and -184 degrees Fahrenheit to ‘hypercool’ the body. The strategy was a more sophisticated alternative to an ice bath or icing your ankles after a run.
Jobes’ website walks potential clients through a session – after disrobing to their level of comfort, clients don their ‘cryo-safe’ garb – a robe, booties, thermal socks, and gloves. The technician pre-cools the machine while helping you to enter, and the session begins as you feel cool, dry nitrogen vapor surrounding you quickly. The tech stays present to walk you through the entire three-minutes process as you rotate, dance, or do anything else that takes your mind off the cold. “There’s no voodoo involved here,” Jobes laughed. “It’s cold!”
Every 30 seconds, you’ll hear the machine emit a beep that notified the technician that it’s safe to continue the session. Yes, it’s cold, but three minutes go by quickly and hopefully, you emerge feeling rejuvenated and somewhat recovered from your latest workout or competition.
When the body is exposed to the cold temperature, it reacts by releasing anti-inflammatory proteins and endorphins, thus super-charging the blood. Following a whole-body cryotherapy treatment, individuals often experience immediate relief from joint and muscle pain, improved energy, and better sleep quality.
“I like to refer to it as the modern-day ice bath,” said Jobes. “And it’s not just for athletes.”
Jobes is proud of the fact that she refuses to oversell cryotherapy – in other words, she won’t claim benefits that haven’t been documented or proven. But she’s seen it used to treat people otherwise active adults who may be tired after a long day at work, or who struggle to sleep at night.
She does have a passion, however, for working with athletes and getting them back onto the field, court, or track. “The fact that you can get this relief without taking medicine is huge,” she stated. “Is it a miracle pill? Will it work for everybody? Maybe not. But as an alternative, as something to explore? It’s a no-brainer.”
The beauty of modern-day WBC is that while you’re in the cryotherapy machine, blood rushes to your core to protect your major organs from the cold. Thus, upon exiting the machine oxygenated blood rushes to the extremities, allowing the individual to begin warming back up almost instantaneously. “You’re dry, not wet,” explained Jobes. “We were cold for hours after those ice baths.”
The athletes Jobes has seen run the gamut from high school to the professional ranks, from track & field athletes to aspiring professional basketball players. Celebrities from Mark Wahlberg to LeBron James have extolled the virtues of cryotherapy, but not too long ago NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown brought some unwanted attention to the practice with a photo of his discolored and blistering feet that came about from a cryotherapy session. Over time, however, it became apparent that Brown’s maladies were the result of failing to wear the proper footwear during his session.
“We’re about safety first,” said Jobes. “The people from whom we bought our machine were here for two days, providing thorough training. I’m very thorough in that regard. Don’t go into the machine immediately after shaving or applying lotion, and please, don’t go into the machine wet.”
Follow these rules, and a client can have help in recovery, receive an energy boost and have their blood oxygenated within about 15 minutes – the absolute minimum amount of time Jobes says a person should allocate for an appointment. The cryo session itself, after all, lasts only three minutes, so after a brief introduction and change of clothes, an individual can reasonably expect to spend at least that much time in the office.
As an owner and practitioner, Jobes is very engaging to clients, fellow office professionals, even one potential client who calls on the phone during our conversation, seemingly unaware of exactly what cryotherapy is, so she’s happy to have customers take their time. But if the situation calls for it, the sessions can be completed in that 15-minute interval.
Back to Jobes’ own story – after meeting her eventual husband in her 20s, she would tag along on a bike while he went for runs. As time went on, she ran with a small group at work, and got faster and faster until she won the 2007 Steamtown Marathon in northeastern Pennsylvania, thereby qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials – an unthinkable outcome for someone who quit running in high school because she was too quiet and found the team to be filled with cliques of friends.
But the challenge of starting a brand-new business at this point in her life and career doesn’t seem overly daunting.
“I’m a people person, and when people come in, I enjoy relating to them,” she said. “I like learning about the sports they play, or how many children they have. This is not a simple currency exchange; I genuinely care about my clients.”
What are her challenges? One, cryotherapy isn’t covered by insurance, and secondly, general awareness of cryotherapy lacks. It is, after all, a relatively new treatment, particularly in the area where Jobes is practicing.
But perhaps most importantly, cryotherapy isn’t cheap. That’s why Kathleen is happy to be able to offer introductory rates for new clients, plus special pricing for high school and college athletes. “Obviously, I need to make this [business] a financial success,” she said. “But I also want to give back to the community. Even twenty dollars is a lot to a high school or college kid. It all comes back to that word of mouth and bringing people in the door.”